Manoj Narayanan, winner of this year's Sangeetha Nataka Akademi best director award, believes children are the hope for the future of theatre.
Theatre for Manoj Narayanan is the truth he lives, and a dream he dreams, each moment he breathes. He has been on and off the stage, for the last 15 years. A bachelor at 35, Manoj, who won the best director award instituted by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi this year for the second time consecutively, is married to the stage and he loves it more than “anything else” in life.
Doing theatre from his school days and winning prizes for directing and acting from his college days, Manoj, who hails from Vadakara in Kozhikode, is a familiar name not merely in theatre circles but also among students of numerous schools and colleges across the State, where he holds theatre camps and workshops for them.
If it was the play ‘Nellu', presented by Pookkad Kalalayam, that brought him the Akademi's crown for the best director last year, it was two of his plays – ‘Perunthachan' and ‘Varthamanathilekkoru Kannaki' – that the jury took into account this year before giving him the award for the best director.
Experiments on stage
Honours are nothing new to Manoj. ‘Kadathanattamma', directed by him and presented by Kozhikode Rangabhasha had won him the Akademi award for the best play in 2007, while ‘Govardhanante Yatrakal', a theatre version of Anand's novel of the same name, where he had donned the lead role, had fetched him the award for the best director. The play was named the best play at a national theatre festival in Chennai last year.
Manoj is no product of any known schools of drama. He learned to perform from life. Watching numerous plays being staged and listening to the doyens of the art have also helped him. The director who loves to craft his plays in a way that communicates with the masses, however, is not against experimentation in the medium as long as one can afford it.
“In fact any experiment, even if it communicates with a highbrow audience, gives the essential variety and diversity the sphere of theatre needs for its survival,” says Manoj.
Even as he directs professional plays and works with senior artistes in the filed, theatre camps for children are the place where he takes energy and inspiration from to move ahead. “I have directed over 100 plays for children at various levels already,” says Manoj, who conducts theatre training programmes and workshops for school and college students around the year. “That is where I derive my freshness of ideas and energy required for the stage,” he says.
He doesn't believe that theatre is an art meant to be performed only by a handful of people. Some of his productions had nearly all 500 students of the camp appearing as characters in it. That is the uniqueness of the medium of theatre, he believes.
After the camp, the participants come out as completely transformed beings, he feels. “They learn a lot of things about life, love, dependence, freedom and the myriad possibilities of their body, senses, sounds and silence, which ultimately bring out the creative energy from them in the form of a live art,” says Manoj who thinks that theatre can work wonders in transforming a child into an incredibly resourceful and thoughtful human being.
The stage-craftsman who believes that a play cannot be complete without its politics – the politics of love, humanism and the love for nature, is also convinced that the root cause of many problems in present-day society is the gradual disappearance of quality cultural activities, including theatre activities, from villages as well as urban areas.
He turns to children because he strongly believes they are the hope of the future. “Only changing them positively can change our future for the better,” says Manoj, who dreams about a grand project for comprehensive development of children with the help of theatre.
In fact, he has already laid the foundation stone for it by registering a theatre group for children – ‘Kuttikalude Veedu' (The home for children).
He recently announced his wholesome commitment to children's theatre once again by changing even his postal address to ‘Kuttikalude Veedu' PO: Villyappalli, Vadakara, Kozhikode, 673542. “Ninety per cent of calls I received after winning the award this time around were from children,” he laughs. No wonder.